The 2012 Beetle Turbo Launch Edition.

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VW juices up an icon


Let's just get it out of the way – the old New Beetle – the one that resurrected VW's fabled Bug in 1998 – was often referred to as a "chick car."

If you're are uncertain why, look no farther than the car's built-in flower vase. That did indeed resurrect the Bug, and buyers of the female variety seemed to flock this poppy on wheels.

But its looks had gotten long in the tooth. And no amount of flowers, littoral or figurative, could overcome that. A complete reboot was needed, and Volkswagen has done exactly that with the 2012 Beetle. In the process they've also made it more masculine.

Behold the new New Beetle.

From its exterior, you can still tell that it's a Beetle, but its round shape has become more oval and much more aggressive. This one is longer, wider and lower than the previous model. Take a good look at it and you might be reminded of its corporate cousin, the Audi TT. I sure was, and in more ways than just aesthetics.

VW says that for this third generation of "the People's Car" it actually looked to the original Beetle, which became a worldwide phenomenon after World War II.

"The designers wanted to develop the new car around the earliest Beetle profile rather than the 1998 New Beetle," VW says of this new car. "In short, they wanted a car that respects the past but looks toward the future."

So just how does this new Beetle's future look? After a week of driving a Turbo Launch Edition, I was left with mostly a smile on my face – and only a slight sense of emasculation.

For now, Beetles come with two engine choices, including its first turbo for the car in years. A base Beetle (starting price: $20, 565) uses VW's 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower. The sporty, Turbo version (starting price: $24,165) like the kind I drove uses a smaller, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, yet it generates more power: 200 ponies to be exact. Transmission choices are VW's excellent six-speed, dual-clutch automatic, or five- and six-speed manual transmissions.

Later this year, VW says a diesel version of the car will be available that uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and is expected to get up to 40 mpg on the highway.

The turbo engine in my test model offered both power and good if not great fuel economy. The car felt spunky and shifted flawlessly up and down the gears. The EPA rates this model at 22 mpg city/30 highway. In mixed driving over a week, I averaged 24.1 mpg, according to the car's computer.

What I really liked about the Beetle besides its gusto was the solid way it felt on the road. While it's a compact car, it didn't quiver or shake at speed. In this regard it felt more like an Audi TT, though in this case with power going to the front wheels instead of all four.

I also liked the way this car felt, tactilely. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, for example, offers a good grip and felt great in my hands. Glaringly absent on my base model of this car, however, were steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

Accommodations up front are good, but adult passengers in back will likely suffer. The Beetle features just two seats in back, and they are small and cramped. Cargo space, at least, has improved over the past model, growing from 12 cubic feet in the trunk to 15.4. Fold the seats down, and you nearly double that amount.

Before the Beetle arrived, I feared that as a guy I might be embarrassed to drive it. It didn't take long, though, for glee to trump any misgivings.

This hopped-up Beetle, I kept telling the curious, reminded me more of a sporty Audi TT than some flower on wheels. And it turned out to be a car that even this man could admire. For my wife's perspective, look xxx will fill in when mounted on page).

Your turn: Share your own opinion on the new Beetle and see more exclusive photos of this car at

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